Atheneum to Publish My New Picture Book: Duckworth, the Difficult Child

I haven’t posted for quite some time, as I’ve been hard at work on a novel. But I’m back with three exciting announcements:

La Gran Cadena by Júlia Sardà

The story, my homage to Florence Parry Heide’s The Shrinking of Treehorn, is about a boy with misguided parents who remain untroubled when he gets eaten by a snake.

This is my first picture book to be published since my debut—Otto Grows Down—was released by Sterling with illustrations by Scott Magoon.

 

Special thanks to Harold Underdown and Karl Monger—as well as Emma Ledbetter at Atheneum—for their expertise in editing the manuscript.

 

 

 

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OTTO GROWS DOWN Goes Out of Print

 

 

 

My debut picture book, Otto Grows Down, was published by Sterling in 2009. I was lucky to be paired with the illustrator, Scott Magoon, a fabulous artist who has gone on to illustrate a bunch of wonderful books, including Spoon, Mostly Monsterly, and Chopsticks. Scott was a delight to work with, and Otto turned into a true collaboration.

Otto may not have won any awards, but it sold well, and it won the hearts and minds of many children and parents across the country. It has been gratifying to hear from parents, booksellers, and librarians that kids adore the story. In her blog post titled “What is Your Kid’s Favorite Book?”, Carissa Rogers wrote:

“I hope I can say this clearly enough. My little boy LOVES this book.
No. That was pathetic. Let me try again.
–He sprinkles this book on his cereal for breakfast.
–He sleeps with it.
–His older sister likes it just as much and often BEGS to read it to him!
–I’m not exaggerating. He would forgo a trip to the park, for an extra reading of Otto Grows Down.
–It travels on vacation with us.

–He plans to name his firstborn child Otto, regardless of gender.”

A college student was so taken with the story that she wrote a song about it and performed her creation on YouTube.

For those who never read the book, it’s the story of a boy who becomes trapped in backward time after making a birthday wish that his baby sister was never born. Like Crashing Eden, the central theme involves guilt and remorse over mistreating a sibling, and the wish to repair the damage.

Both stories probably emerged from my own remorse for having teased and harassed my younger brother. This theme of having harmed a sibling is such an abiding part of my psyche that at times I’ve wondered whether I’m a “womb twin survivor.” That’s someone who started life as a twin but was born alone, perhaps resulting in unconscious survivor guilt. (Yes, I realize that sounds bizarre, but who knows?)

Anyhow, it’s with some sadness that I announce that Otto Grows Down has gone out of print. Yet I take some comfort from Einstein’s belief that the past, present, and future coexist simultaneously, and that “the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.” If this is the case, then as Otto bows out he simultaneously arrives, and will exist eternally.

Here’s a poem I wrote that never quite made it into the book:

 

What Is Time?

 

What is Time? What is Time?

Can anybody say?

Can you go to sleep tomorrow night

And wake up yesterday?

 

Will last Tuesday ever come again?

Or next year come round twice?

If summer never went away,

Now wouldn’t that be nice?

 

What is Time? What is Time?

Have you solved the riddle yet?

Can you stuff Time in your pocket?

Can you catch it with a net?

 

The Past is now behind us

And the Future’s yet to show.

Let’s celebrate the Present—

It’s the only time we know!

 

 

 

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My Son; My Muse

As a baby, my son was high maintenance. I stayed home with Ollie for the first couple of years and he always demanded my full attention.

At the time of his birth, I was preparing to record a CD of my own piano compositions. Ollie, however, had other plans for me. My job was to entertain him, and he made it clear that this did not include playing piano. The only time available to practice was during his naps, but I didn’t want to wake him.

So I canceled the hours I’d booked at the recording studio and shifted from playing music to writing fiction. Since it was a quiet activity, I could write during my son’s naps and in the evenings after he went to bed.

I wrote a comic mystery novel, titled Soup to Nuts, which I never managed to publish. But my writing continued to improve.

By the time Ollie was five, I’d read him hundreds of picture books. I didn’t care for most of them, and decided I could do better. So I began writing for children, and in 2009 my debut picture book—Otto Grows Down—was published by Sterling.

As Ollie aged, I started writing for older kids. He had an incredible imagination and became something of a writing partner. He supplied me with ideas and gave me invaluable feedback on my stories. He was even a good editor.

When Ollie was eleven, I began working on a young adult novel. Being precocious, he was already reading some YA novels himself. Ollie helped me construct the plot, develop characters, and refine the manuscript. The result, Crashing Eden, has been released by Solstice Publishing. I dedicated the book to Ollie. In truth, his name should accompany mine on the cover.

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